Yugoslavia in Crisis, 1934-1941

Yugoslavia in Crisis, 1934-1941

Yugoslavia in Crisis, 1934-1941

Yugoslavia in Crisis, 1934-1941

Excerpt

Winston Churchill hailed with great satisfaction the overthrow of the Yugoslav regency by a small group of Serb army officers on March 27, 1941. Yugoslavia, he proclaimed, had "found its soul."

In that war-torn time no one paused to question this pronouncement, and no one stopped to wonder if a poetic phrase told the whole story. In 1941 few doubted that Yugoslavia should follow Churchill's exhortations, attack the Italians in Albania, and risk savage reprisals by the overwhelming Axis force. And in 1941 no one raised his voice to ask if the goal of foreign policy is the saving of a nation's soul or the saving of the nation.

In Churchill's view at the time, the coup d'état in Belgrade erupted from the wrath of a people "at the betrayal of their country by the weakness of their rulers." Twenty years have passed, and it is time to test the validity of this judgment, which has colored all subsequent interpretations of Yugoslavia's prewar foreign policy.

Weighing various factors, including the dramatic events of March 27th, this study will examine the loyalties that sustained Yugoslavia's leaders in the years leading up to the war, and the choices that they faced in setting their country's political course. It will analyze policies fabricated in desperation by individuals torn between the ideal and the reality, the desirable and the practical. Yugoslavia's leaders superimposed Western political institutions on a people who lacked the common political experiences that made those institutions viable, thereby insuring the inevitability of conflict between the uncompromising adherents of theoretical institutions and the practical politicians. Of surpassing significance was the seeming inadaptability of the Serbian raison d'état as it was construed by certain Serb leaders to the Yugoslav idea. At every turn the harsh realities of geography, economics, military power, and civil conflict severely circumscribed political choices on all questions of both foreign and domestic policy.

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